Brick WWII hero earns French military honor

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BRICK TOWNSHIP– He fought in North Africa, landed on Utah Beach during D-Day and helped hold the line at the Battle of the Bulge. 

After more than 70 years since serving in World War II, the French government has honored an American veteran living in Brick with the insignia of the Chevalier dans l’Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur [Knight in the National Order of the Legion of Honor] at a ceremony at the French Consulate in New York City Friday, May 11. 

“I am so flabbergasted, in my life of 96 years I never figured I would get an honor like this,” said John Santillo, who was part of the 4th Infantry Division of the U.S. Armed Forces.

John Santillo is awarded the Legion of Honor by the French government for his role in liberating the county from Nazi occupation in WWII.

Friday was a day-long recognition of Mr. Santillo’s service, starting at Greenbriar in Brick with Mayor John Ducey and a representative from Ocean County presenting him with proclamations thanking him for his service. Afterward, the Greenbriar Veterans Association rented Mr. Santillo a limousine so he could travel to the French Consulate in style. 

It was there in a lavish, ornate room on 5th Avenue that Mr. Santillo and eight other veterans received an honor that is held by less than 100,000 people. 

The Legion of Honor was established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte as a way to recognize “exceptional deeds of men and women for France and its people,” according to Anne-Claire Legendre, consul general of France in New York. 

“Today the French Republic wants solemnly to thank [these veterans] for the outstanding services that you rendered to our nation,” she said. 

For more on this story, read The Ocean Star—on newsstands Friday or online in our e-Edition.